Sermon for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost
Festival of the Reformation

 

Text: John 8:34-36

Jesus said to them, "I am telling you the truth: everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave does not belong to a family permanently, but a son belongs there forever. If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free."

The Son sets you free

The headline story on Thursdayís newspapers touched us deeply. There was the photo of three little girls who had drowned. They were members of a group of people trying to get to Australia in a leaky old fishing boat that was crowded with something like 350 refugees. The boat had sunk somewhere near Indonesia and the three children were unable to hang on to their mother, and like many others on that boat they drowned. The paper reported how the mother had paid a huge amount of money in order to make this journey from Iran.

Why do people risk everything, even their lives to make this kind of journey? The answer is simple Ė freedom.
Freedom from persecution and oppressive governments,
freedom from fear and war,
freedom to be educated and to work,
freedom to live in safety.
What they did was dangerous but these people were desperate to go to a place where they could bring up their children in freedom and peace. If we were in their shoes, I would guess we too would be prepared to do anything to get our families to a place of freedom. You can imagine how disappointed we would feel, if we were confined to a refugee camp after coming so far.

This search for freedom is nothing new. The movie Braveheart is about William Wallace and Scotlandís fight for freedom from the cruel rule of the English king. Wallace had many victories over the English but in the end, a friend betrayed him. The king by then was very old and frail and dying but was determined not merely to kill Wallace but to have him beg for mercy and a quick death. Just before Wallace died, he mustered all of his remaining strength and screamed out "Freedom!!" - itís sound penetrating the air - and reaching the ears of the dying king. As we read the history books, we are overwhelmed with the fact that the search for freedom is behind so many wars, so many deaths, and so many struggles.

We donít even have to go to the history books to see a struggle for freedom.
To the patient in hospital, freedom means release from a hospital bed and having good health once again.
To a student, freedom means no more homework and exams.
To those who are in unhappy marriages, freedom means release from all the arguments and the misery.
To the tired and overworked, freedom means getting up late, doing what they want to do, enjoying a hobby, getting away from all the worries and burdens of their work.
For some the idea of freedom gives them permission to do as they please Ė it doesnít matter if they hurt others or their property. Freedom means blurring the distinction between right and wrong to the point where even wrong is regarded as right. They claim they are free from all the old taboos and restrictions. Do drugs and alcohol, pornography, have sex whenever and with whoever you like, murder the unborn, violence, robbery, greed, and selfishness become expressions of their "new" freedom. This isnít freedom. Itís just another form of slavery.

Today we hear Jesus talking about freedom. First, he says, "the truth will make you free". Those who were listening didnít understand what he was talking about. They didnít need to be made free. They werenít slaves to anyone or anything. They were already free.

The average Australian would respond in much the same way. We live is a peaceful and freedom loving country. Some people have come to this country because of freedom. The first Lutherans came to Australia because they were looking for a place where they could worship God freely without any hindrance or persecution. We have seen boat loads of people risk their lives trying to get to our country because they want that kind of freedom they have only dreamt about.

Jesusí listeners denied that they needed any kind of freeing. They had all the freedom they needed. (It suited Jesusí listeners to momentarily forget that the Romans were just one among many who oppressed the Jews and restricted their freedom).

Then Jesus reminds his listeners, "I am telling you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin." People donít like being reminded of this and some even deny that sin has a firm grip on them, that they are "slaves of sin". To be called a slave of sin is serious stuff. A slave only does what he is told to do. A slave has no freedom, no rights. A slave cannot free himself; he is bound to be a slave all his life. "Everyone who sins is a slave of sin", our thoughts, words and deeds are ruled by sin. There is not a moment in our lives that sin doesnít dictate to us what we should do. No sinner can free himself/herself from the grip that sin has on their lives.
We might go to self-improvement classes:
attend counselling sessions to try to improve our behaviour;
go to therapy groups to try and be more positive and less influenced by our selfish nature
but as good as these might be, a slave is always a slave. Our sinful desires, the temptations that the world and Satan put in front of us to lead us astray, make it clear that in spite of our firm resolve to change, our bondage to sin is never broken. Denying that we are slaves of sin is just further proof that we are helplessly trapped and we canít do anything to free ourselves.

Some say that if I really try to avoid the big and obvious sins, God wonít hold my little transgressions against me. In other words, Iím not really a sinner, a bad sinner, that is. I might do a few little things wrong, but hey, everyone does that." And thatís just the point. Everyone is a sinner, and as far as God is concerned a sin is a sin.

What is more, the terrible thing is that God demands perfection! 100%! Thatís the way he intended humans to be from the very beginning of time. God himself is holy, perfect, and sinless. Heaven is a holy, perfect and sinless place, and sinners by themselves have no chance of getting there. No matter how shining and bright we think we are, or how many excuses we have, "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God".

In the sixteenth century, Martin Luther found himself in a church that had an elaborate system for offering people personal freedom. Freedom could be obtained only by confessing all your sins to a priest, receiving absolution, and then doing a series of devotional good works that would make satisfaction for your sins and secure your forgiveness. The only trouble was that even while you were doing these good works of satisfaction, you were already starting to commit new sins which now had to be confessed, absolved, and satisfied. And in the course of this second round a third round would begin, and so you found yourself on a treadmill of hopelessness and condemnation.

The terrible thing was that the church had made freedom from sin and forgiveness a number of hoops that people had to jump through. But they could never be sure if they had jumped through enough hoops to satisfy God.

What Jesus says in our text brings relief. He says, "If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free". There is only one way you can be released from slavery to sin and no longer suffer the consequences of such slavery Ė Jesus the Son of God will declare you free. You canít free yourself. Only the one who has the real authority and power can set you free. Only the Son of God can set you free. Luther said this so well when he summarised how enslaved to sin we are and how the Son of God has set us free. He says in the Small Catechism,
Jesus rescued me when I was lost and sentenced to death.
He set me free from all my sins, from death and from the power of the devil.
It cost him more than gold or silver; it cost him his life.
Even though he was holy and innocent, he suffered and died for me" (Second Part of the Apostlesí Creed, Openbook Publishers 1996).

This is at the very core and centre of what the Bible has to say. This is God's message to all people; it is the central message of the church. Jesus has rescued us from slavery to sin. We are helplessly trapped. God sent Jesus to give his life for us on the cross; to free us from the power that sin and Satan hold over us.

He didnít send Jesus because he could see a spark of good in us. No, he sent Jesus because he could see that we are hopelessly enslaved and that our only hope is for him to intervene and to set us free. God declares us righteous. He restores friendship with us. He forgives us even though we donít deserve it. It is a gift that belongs to anyone who believes in Jesus.

God's loves the unlovely, he forgives those who are trapped in fear, pain and the cycle of violence. He sacrifices himself for every unlovely thing we do. He doesn't excuse it; he cures it. This is God's way of dealing with sin.

Freedom in Christ means freedom from guilt and condemnation. The Son of God has freed us from the punishment we right deserve.
Freedom in Christ means freedom from the power of sin.
Freedom in Christ is the freedom to be God's children, to love, serve and forgive others as God has loved, served and forgiven us.
Freedom in Christ gives hope. We may be disgusted in our own behaviour. We may believe that we are hopelessly trapped in sin, but the freedom that Christ gives enables us to see that we are still dearly loved by God and that he still regards us as his special children. We are forgiven; we will go to heaven.
Freedom in Christ means freedom from fear. Nothing Ė not our sin, Satan, sickness or death, any ruler or authority Ė will ever be able to take away from us the freedom and love that is ours through Christ Jesus.

These words are music to our ears, "If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free."

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
28th October
, 2001
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com 

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, revised Australian edition 1994.

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